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Upstairs Girls: Prostitution in the American West

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  228 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
Prostitutes make up one of the most engaging chapters in the story of the American West. Upstairs Girls opens a window on the lives of these women for hire--why they turned to prostitution, who they worked for, and what their lives were like. Author and historian Michael Rutter offers a thorough history of prostitution in the West, with chapters on notorious madams, the hi ...more
Paperback, 219 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by Farcountry Press
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(showing 1-30)
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Aug 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Follow all my reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot....

I got excited when I discovered Michael Rutter’s Upstairs Girls at my local library, but while I found it factually interesting, I can’t help feeling it failed to meet my expectations.

In terms of tone, Rutter failed these women like all the historians and newspaper men before him. He defines the daughters of joy by their role in the flesh trade, exploring their business dealings, their notable lovers and the memoirs of their clie
Jenny Lovering
Aug 05, 2009 rated it liked it
The information was interesting...but the writing was repetitive and choppy to the point of annoying.
Apr 17, 2017 rated it liked it
A solid "does what says on tin" sort of book. A good overview of the history as well as some of the key personalities.
Feb 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book told a fascinating history of women in the frontier west and why so many either chose or simply ended up in prostitution. Even the town I live in was mentioned and I asked my Mom if they got it right. Everyone knew where the brothel was back in the 40s and 50s and earlier. When the Pill came along many of the shops were closed down because wives and girlfriends could now put out without fear of pregnancy. Kind of weird to think that one little thing like that would change so much.
Timothy Boyd
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very good history book. Well written and an easy read. Excellent source on an area neglected by most history books. Very recommended
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
History just keeps repeating itself in another setting. From ancient Rome to the Wild, Wild West, until now women enter prostitution for a variety of reasons, mostly poverty and lack of work skills.
Interesting read.
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
There's a whole lot that's good about this book. Who writes a mass market book about such a relatively obscure (read: fascinating!) subject? Long passages lend context at the start of each section. Details about railroad camps and a larger sense of Chinese immigration pre-Chinese Exclusion Act were impressive. The chapter on occupational hazards, most notably venereal disease, both fascinated me and had me squirming in my chair (with enchantingly grotesque photos!). There's definitely a lot to l ...more
Sep 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this book as part of my research for a writing project I'm working on, and found it a really interesting read. I love history and enjoyed reading about the old west. The book goes over the life of woman prostitutes in the west - how they got there, why they got into that work (mostly poverty and a lack of other options as life was very limited for women)and all the dangers they encountered. The part I found most interesting was the personal accounts of ten well-known madams and "soiled do ...more
Aug 26, 2011 rated it liked it
I agree with other reviewers here. The writing is repetitive and choppy. And there are some notable exceptions from the research regarding children of prostitutes.

Still, the asides to outlaws, noted historical figures, photos, and added features give the book sufficient interest for a novice reader.

I assume that others have made more extensive research regarding the history and practice of prostitution and, if interested, this may not be your best resource. It's a good place to start, though. W
Great information but such poor writing! This is a history book yet the author uses such statements as "It is obvious to people that..." or "As any student of history should know..." He is often repetitive and displays a lack of experience writing non-fiction. A pet peeve was the misspelling of actress Lillie Langtry's name as "Lily." Overall though, I would recommend it because I learned a lot and it was an interesting read. He clearly loves the subject matter and Old West folklore - it comes a ...more
Dec 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Ah, the role of women in Old West. The very few respectable women were treated like minor goddesses... the rest of the women who earned their bread through less legal and savory means were often mistreated and abused quite harshly. The law never came to their aid and once their looks were gone, few choices were to be had. The suicide rate was very high.

This book was reasonably well written and I like the way it was broken into small chapters so one could "digest" the contents slowly if one wishe
Diane Lybbert
Dec 29, 2014 rated it liked it
This was an interesting study of prostitution in the old west. Brothels followed the men moving west to find gold, men moving cattle, railroad workers, soldiers, and bandits/gamblers. There were several 'classes' of prostitutes, from the top girls working in high-dollar houses featuring food and drink as well as 'entertainment' to the bottom tier with girls walking the streets. There were also several short biographies of some of the 'soiled doves' such as Big Nose Kate, Pearl Starr (daughter of ...more
Jul 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
Michael Rutter gives an excellent history lesson of the wild west. History about some of the most notorious madams and their girls. Famous outlaws and gunslingers and the women they loved. It gives you an understanding of why and how women entered the "world's oldest profession". I felt much heartache and sadness as I read some of the stories, but there are other parts that will make you laugh. Interesting facts and fascinating stories if you like history and the wild west.
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013
This book never really got into very good detail. It gives several biographies of notable shady ladies, but they all feel rather rushed and incomplete.

This book has a fascinating subject, but it never really gives enough information on what made these women go into such a hellish profession, what their lives were really like and what happened to the ones who didn't die of drugs, murder or suicide....did any find "honest" jobs after?

Callie Ludwig
Nov 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book was full of intriguing information on the history of prostitution in the American west. I found the explanation of the brothel hierarchy especially interesting and learned much more about the horrors of the Chinese sex trade. For me, the best parts of the book were the well-chosen biographies of the most famous prostitutes and madams that worked the frontier.
Jan 12, 2009 rated it it was ok
Great nonfiction read. Little information though on letters from women, but then I can see how this would have been hard to find. This is one of the better books on the subject and leaves out all that folksy crap, moves away from the cliches and delves into some fascinating madams who were politically and progressively way more ahead of their times then most men.
Mar 23, 2014 rated it liked it
A good introduction into the world of prostitution during the gold rush, with explanations of high end brothels to the lower "crib houses." My favourite part was the series of profiles of individual madams or famous prostitutes. I love Gold Rush stories and history and I'm happy to keep this book as a reference.
Nov 16, 2015 rated it liked it
This is not the best writing I have ever seen but the content is good. It explains how the brothels followed the men who moved out to the West and how some women became prostitutes either by choice or not. It also talks about Chinese ladies being shipped over to be slave-brides and how badly they were treated.
Ann Kuhn
Aug 19, 2009 rated it did not like it
This book is so badly written I can't read it. It's very possible that this is a freshman's term paper. Too bad--such an interesting socio-economic cultural phenomenon. Should I have known from the title that it would be insulting? The author uses the word "girls" throughout the book.
Dec 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-rocks
I liked the information in this book, but it read like an undergrad history paper, in a bad way. It still needed some editing for punctuation and flow. And definitely a star knocked off for using "insure" instead of "ensure."
Jan 23, 2017 rated it liked it
The subject matter in this book and it's focus was really interesting. The writing itself was lacking, but I was able to get past that. The author was obviously passionate and the subject was well-researched. It just could've used another round of edits, so it felt a bit clunky.
Sep 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own, favorites
A really good read on how a lot of the women became prostitutes after being widowed or just life circumstances. It was not an easy life for them and they were shunned for doing what they had to do to survive. A lot of the died from sickness and suicide.
Dec 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Good behind-the-scenes stories of the wild west, all revolving around the prostitutes of the times. Most of them are only known to history because of their association with famous outlaws, so there's some good dirt on famous wild west men here too.
Oct 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Really interesting look at prostitution out west. I couldn't put it down.
Apr 24, 2009 marked it as wishlist
Recommended for me by Amazon based on my previous purchases.
May 16, 2012 is currently reading it
Loving this book. Found it on the way home from Montana during a business trip and have been slowly reading it in between my legalese.
Lisa Yvonne
Mar 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Lisa by:
Lots of interesting stories from the Old West.
Linda Belmont
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting. I wish there were more photos, but I guess there weren't many back then.
Nikki Wilson
Oct 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was interesting and I was surprised at the different levels of prostitution in the "Wild West."
Nov 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Agree with other reviews. Interesting subject-matter, poorly written.
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